Odierno considers tour extensions in Iraq

Oct. 2, 2009 at 6:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. military officials may extend the tour of duty for around 1,600 U.S. troops in Iraq following parliamentary elections scheduled for January, officials say.

Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said he may maintain a force level of around 110,000 to 120,000 troops for two months following January elections before drawing down his forces later in 2010, the U.S. Defense Department reported.

"What we'll do is we'll hold that in place through the elections and about 60 days after the elections," he said. "And depending on how that goes, if it's peaceful, then we will make a determination of coming down to the 50,000-transition force by the first of September."

Odierno said he preferred to extend the tours for forces already in the theater rather than bring in new troops as the U.S. military prepares to end its combat mission in Iraq.

"What I don't want to do is bring in a brand new division headquarters, for example, for the elections," he said.

Odierno testified Wednesday before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee outlining plans for Iraq.

Baghdad and Washington agreed to a bilateral status of forces agreement in 2008 that outlines the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of 2011. Odierno said U.S. combat forces deployed in Iraq would drop to 115,000 by the end of the year and to roughly 50,000 by summer 2010.

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